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A m er i ca n C i v i l L i b ert i es U n i o n o f N ort h er n Ca l i for n i a

you have the


right to...not
remain silent

a k n o w - y o u r - r i gh t s g u i de t o s o m e o f t h e
most important questions youth have
about their civil liberties

Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Freedom of Expression . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Clubs & Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Library & Classroom Books . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Pledge and Prayers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Dress Codes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
School Records . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Discrimination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Health & Medical Care . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Bilingual education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Special Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
access to basic educational resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
School Attendance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Searches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Punishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Trouble with the Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Military . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Emancipation of Minors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

INTRODUCTION
Know your rights!! Assert your rights and organize!

nowledge of your rights is an important tool for protecting yourself against abuses
by police, school officials, and other adults. Contrary to what you may think, youth
actually have a lot of rights under state and federal laws.

For instance, according to the United States Supreme Courts ruling in 1969, It can hardly
be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional right to freedom of
speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. And youth have a lot of other rights besides
the First Amendment provision of free speech and expression.
Ever wondered if you have to say the Pledge of Allegiance? Is the principal or newspaper
advisor allowed to censor what you write? What about the school censoring your off-campus
website? What rights do you have when school officials want to search you? Can the school
say youre not allowed to start a gay-straight alliance club? Do minors need parental consent
to get birth control pills? Is your teacher allowed to say you cant wear a certain shirt
because its controversial?
Read this brochure for answers to these and other legal questions you may have about your
rights as a youth and a student. The law can be confusing, and the ACLU is here to assist
you if your rights have been violated. Be a watchdog for your own rights and those of your
friends. Knowing your rights makes you all the more powerful and can help you realize the
constitutional freedoms that you are guaranteed.
We know there are many challenging questions students face every day - and we have not
covered them all here. You can find out more about civil liberties from our website: www.
aclunc.org. And if you think your school is not complying with the law or you need advice
about your rights at school, you can call the ACLUs legal counselors at (415) 621-2488.

Gain knowledge. Organize. Rise up and demand your rights.

*This information was published in November 2005. Laws cited here might be changed by the courts, Legislature or Congress. Before relying on
this information, please double check that the particular law has not changed. If you have specific questions, please contact the ACLU or a lawyer.
In general, the information provided in this brochure applies to students rights in public schools and may not be the same for students in private
schools. Private school students can call the ACLU or a lawyer to find out more about their rights.
EDITORS: Eveline Chang, Julia Harumi Mass, Gigi Pandian
CONTRIBUTORS: Ann Brick, Sue Burrell, Ed Chen, Margaret Crosby, Elaine Elinson, Deborah Escobeda, Shayna Gelender, Tamara Lange, Bob Kim,
Ajay Krishnan, Julia Harumi Mass, Nancy Otto, Alan Schlosser, Christine Sun
PHOTO CREDITS: Eveline Chang, Shayna Gelender, Katayoon Majd, Susana Millman, Nancy Otto, Gigi Pandian, Rick Rocamora
DESIGN: Gigi Pandian

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
What is freedom of speech?
Freedom of speech is a guarantee of the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution. It protects what you say, what you write, and your right
to meet freely with other people in clubs, organizations, rallies and
demonstrations. It applies to everyone in the United States. The California
Constitution has a similarand even broaderguarantee (Article 1,
Section 2) that protects freedom of speech for everyone in the state.

Do I have a right to freedom of


speech while I am in school?
Yes. You do not surrender your constitutional rights when you enter school.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in general are guaranteed
by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But in California, there are also two special laws
that specifically protect students rights of
freedom of speech and freedom of the press at
school.
These laws are found in the California
Education CodeSection 48907 and Section
48950. They are important ones to remember!
For example, Section 48907 gives a special
guarantee against censorship of public school
newspapers and yearbooks, underground (or
unofficial) newspapers, handing out leaflets,
wearing buttons, and posting notices on
school bulletin boards. Although Section
48907 applies only to public schools, Section
48950 extends free speech protection to
private high schools in most circumstances.

Can the school place limits and


restrictions on these activities?
Yes. Even under the First Amendment and California Education Code
48907, a public school can adopt reasonable rules which regulate the
time, place and manner of exercising these free speech rights. The
same is true for private schools under Section 48950.
The school is not allowed to prohibit or censor speech or press
activities by students based on its content (what you are saying), unless
what you are saying falls within one of these three exceptions:
1. it is legally obscene;
2. it is libelous or slanderous (that is, it is untrue and harms someones
reputation, and you are careless, or you know, or should have known,
that it is untrue when you write or say it); or
3. it creates the immediate danger of causing students to commit an act
that is unlawful or in violation of school rules, or that would cause a
substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.

So, even if your principal or teachers believe that an article or leaflet is


in bad taste, or is controversial, divisive, or expresses a political point
of view that is against school policy, they still cannot censor what you say
or write unless it also falls within the three exceptions above. The law is
clear about one thing: outside the classroom itself, school officials cannot
just impose their own version of good taste and decency on what students
say or write. However, you can certainly avoid some problems if you can
say what you want to say without using profanity or sexual references.

What can we do if the school does


try to censor us?
California Education Code Section 48907 also requires each school
district to put in writing the rules controlling speech and press activities.
So, if you are faced with a school official who is trying
to limit what you say or write, you should ask
to see those written rules to determine whether
the school official is following the rules they are
required to follow.
But remember: sometimes exercising your
free speech rights involves risks. Sometimes
reasonable peoplelike you and the school
principal, for examplecan disagree as to what
is disruptive or libelous. And school officials
do not always follow the law on this. You may be
acting within your rights, but you may have a
struggle in school or even need to go to court.
There are key steps you can take to fight censorship.
Be sure to get in writing your school policies regarding
banned expression. Show Education Code sections
48907 and 48950 to school officials and ask them
for a written response as to why they still want to ban the expression.
Get petitions signed by other students, parents and teachers (especially
journalism or yearbook advisors, debate coaches, history and government
teachers or others who really understand the First Amendment). Write an
article in the school paper. Lobby at school board meetings and ask parents,
community and youth advocates and First Amendment experts to join you.
Tell your local newspaper about the controversy.

Can school officials ban speech


which they claim is false?
Again, there is no simple answer. The law only allows the prohibition of
speech which is libelous or slanderous. These are also highly technical
legal terms which generally cover writing or saying something that you
know, or should know, is false, that injures someones reputation, and that
you are careless in writing (by not finding out whether it is false or not).
Nothing that you say or write can be libelous if it is true. Also, only facts
can be falseyour opinion can never be libelous. The line between a fact and

Can my school stop


speech that it says
is harassment?

an opinion, however, is not always clear.


Finally, there are sometimes privacy
considerations that should be taken
into account. These considerations are
often a matter of good journalism but

Schools have a duty to maintain a safe

occasionally there are legal concerns as

environment for all students. While

well. If in doubt, you may want to consult

students have a right to voice even

with an attorney or privacy expert.

Can they ban our


publication just
because it criticizes
school ofcials?
No. Criticism of school officials and school policies is clearly free speech,
unless it violates the libel laws.
Instead of censoring what you say, school officials should try to
get their message across with their own article in the school paper
or some other response. The only time school officials may be able to
justify banning your article is if they can prove that it will lead to an
immediate and major disruption at the school. However, just thinking
that an article on drugs or gang activity might be bad for the schools
reputation is not a good enough reason for censorship.

Can school officials prevent


me from expressing my opinion
because they think it is too
controversial?
No. School ofcials may believe that articles or leaets about such topics
as racism, gay rights, drugs on campus, or teenage pregnancies are too
controversial for student publications. However, they cannot censor those
topics unless there is clear evidence that the article will incite students to
commit unlawful acts or to disrupt the school. Even if the article would provoke
strong disagreement or upset some students, they still cannot censor it.
Criticism of your school, criticism of students, teachers or school
officials, or discussion about serious problems that have occurred at
other schools is generally protected.

Can I be punished for saying or


writing something provocative at
school?
Sometimes school authorities will try to punish students who make
provocative statements or joke about school violence. They may argue
that the student is making a terrorist threat.
In order to be considered a threat, you must intend that others take
your words as a threat. In addition, your words must be so clear and
convincing that they would cause another person to really believe that you
intend to carry out the threatand therefore to have a reasonable fear for
his or her safety.

offensive opinions, the school has a


duty to step in when students use
words as a weapon against each other.
Conduct (including verbal conduct)
that is intentionally intimidating or
demeaning on the basis of sex, race,
ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender
identity, disability, religion and other categories and that is so severe
and pervasive as to substantially interfere with a students educational
benefits, opportunities, performance or physical or psychological wellbeing constitutes harassment. Schools must respond to complaints
about harassment by other students by stopping the harassment when it
happens, providing staff and student training on tolerance and respect for
all members of the community, consistently issuing appropriate discipline
to harassing students, or a combination of approaches.

Do school officials have more


power to control our publication
if it is school-sponsored or bears
the schools name?
No. In California, our law is clear that freedom of speech and press
applies to official school publications that are written by students, even
if the school pays the costs of producing the newspaper. (That means that
only articles that are obscene, libelous or substantially disruptive can
be censored.) The law also says that student editors, and not teachers
or administrators, are the ones responsible for assigning and editing
articles. However, the journalism advisor can require that the newspaper
conform to professional standards of English and journalism.

What about my website?


Websites are also protected by Education Code sections 48907 and
48950 and the First Amendment. If a school allows students or clubs to
use school facilities (computers, servers, etc.) the same rules apply as
for school-sponsored newspapers.
Generally speaking, school ofcials do not have the right to punish students
for material on websites created outside of school with no use of school
facilities. However, sometimes school ofcials will claim that what you say on
your own website is related to school attendancein other words that it has
an impact on what happens at school. There is no clear law on this, although
generally courts have been protective of off-campus websites. In addition,
school ofcials may try to punish you for what you say on the website if you
talk about it at school or call it up on a computer at school. Again, the law is
not yet clear on this, and each case must be examined individually.

CLUBS & ACTIVITIES


Can a school refuse to allow an
after-school club to meet at the
school or use school facilities
such as bulletin boards because
the groups views are unpopular
or controversial?

address are also covered in classes offered by the school, the GSA must

No. Part of the right to free speech includes the right to form your

some students to form non-curricular clubs, it cannot discriminate

own groups and clubsthey can be anything from a political group to

simply because of the political, philosophical or religious content of the

a cooking club. The right of a particular group to use school rooms,

meetings.

be allowed to meet.

Can students start non-curricular


clubs on campus?
It depends on whether the school has allowed students to have any
non-curricular clubs. The school may prohibit all student clubs that are
not directly related to school classes. However, if the school permits

bulletin boards or other facilities cannot not depend on its point of view,
unless the school can establish that the groups activities will result in
a disruption at the school.
There is also a federal law (the Equal Access Act) which makes it
unlawful for a school to deny equal access to school facilities to
any student group that wants to hold a meeting based on what will be
discussed. For example, your school cant prevent you from holding a
meeting just because you invite a controversial speaker.
However, a school can adopt a policy that limits school facilities to
student groups that address issues related to the schools curriculum. If
they do that, they can bar access to all non-curriculum-related groups. A
curriculum-related student group is
one that addresses issues that are
studied in classes offered by the
school. So, if your group has been
denied access to the school (i.e.,
you are told that you cannot have
a meeting), you should check to see
if other similar groups have been
given access to do what you want
to do. Even if you cant have your
meeting on school grounds, you
can still hand out fliers about your
group or about a planned meeting
or post notices about the meeting
on school bulletin boards that are
open to students.

Can a school ban gay student


clubs or a gay-straight alliance
on campus?
If a school allows other extra-curricular clubs to meet on campus, it
must also allow gay clubs or gay-straight alliances to meet. Even if the
school only allows curriculum-related clubs, if the topics the GSA will

Can students bring in speakers to


talk about political issues? How
about during election time? Can
the school demand that someone of
an opposing viewpoint also speak?
In general, if the school allows students an opportunity to bring in guest
speakers, it cannot prohibit political speakers, even if their views are
controversial. The school may not require that all sides of a controversy
be aired at one session.
However,

during

political

campaign, California law makes it


a crime to use school resources
or facilities for the purpose of
urging the support or defeat of
any ballot measure or candidate.
(Ed. Code Section 7054.) The
school can only present a fair and
impartial summary of the issues
on the ballot. During a campaign,
therefore, the school may insist
that both sides be represented if
speakers are planning to address
specific measures or candidates on
the ballot.

Do students have the right to have


a rally or demonstration at the
school?
Peaceful demonstrations are considered free speech, so a school should
not be able to prohibit them unless they would disrupt the school.

The problem is that many cour t decisions have gone against

Also, if a school off icial tries to stop you because students are

students who wanted to hold demonstrations on school proper ty or

throwing your leaf lets on the f loor, you might suggest that the

during school hours. Cour ts of ten f ind such activities disr uptive

off icial should tr y to stop people from litteringand you could

because they can interfere with the regular school prog rams

help by picking up any leaf lets you seerather than to stop the

(especially if they are inside the school) and because students

leaf leting. This is how the law works on public sidewalks.

might cut class to attend them. However, school authorities


should not be able to prevent students from par ticipating in a
demonstration that is held off campus and af ter school hours.
Also, if the school allows some students and student g roups to
hold activities on campus and during school hours, it cannot
prevent other students from doing so based on a disag reement
with the subject matter of the activity, unless the school can also
show the activity creates a substantial risk of disr uption.

Are we allowed to walk out of class?

Can we collect money for political


causes or sell literature on school
grounds?
State law limits solicitation of students on campus by teachers and
outside organizations, but allows students to collect money from
each other for any other wise lawful purpose. Since collecting
money for political causes is generally recognized as a par t of
protected freedom of speech, it should not be prohibited at school.

The same rules that apply to missing school without parental permission

The right of students to sell underg round newspapers on public

apply here. Schools may not, however, impose a harsher penalty because

school campuses has been upheld in cour t.

you were engaging in a political protest than they would if you were

However, if you want to collect money for some cause, you

cutting class for any other reason. Also, the school cant suspend a

should be prepared to argue that it is not disr uptive. One way of

student for walking out of class if its the students first offense because

doing that is to show that school off icials allow other kinds of

the Education Code says suspension is a penalty of last resort and not

money raising and sales, such as raff les, fundraisers for student

to be used to discipline tardiness, truancy or absences from school.

government, bake sales or sales of yearbooks or school rings.

Can the school prevent us from


distributing leaflets at school?
Your

school

cannot

prohibit

leaflets

dealing

with

controversial topics, unless it can show that the leaflet


would cause a disruption in the school. They also cant
have a blanket rule prohibiting all disruptive leaflets,
or a rule requiring students to get approval of written
materials before passing them out. If they want to stop
you from distributing a leaflet, the school must show that
your specific leaflet would result in a major disruption
at the school. They also cant just ban all leaflets that
have to do with a specific topic, so, for example, a
rule that prohibits all leaflets about abortionfor or
againstis not valid.
As with any free speech activity, however, the
school can adopt reasonable time, place and
manner rules. So, they may not allow you to
leaflet in classrooms or narrow corridors (where
it might disrupt the flow of traffic.) But they
cant completely prohibit leafleting or setting up
information tables inside the school if there is a
lobby or other area where it can be done without
interfering with foot traffic and if the persons involved are not
missing classes or study periods. If you can show that other peoplelike
the student government or the PTAset up tables and their tables are
not considered disruptive, then yours should not be either.

LIBRARY & CLASSROOM BOOKS


Are school officials allowed to
take books off the school library
shelves or out of reading classes
because they dont like their
ideas or their language?
Although the ACLU considers book censorship in the schools to be a
serious violation of students (and teachers) rights, the law itself is
very unclear. It seems to be based on the school officials reason for
restricting or removing the books.
On the one hand, courts have said that school officials cannot
remove books from school library
shelves or classrooms simply to
suppress the ideas they contain.
On the other hand, courts have
allowed

school

officials

to

remove books from classrooms


or reading lists for legitimate
goals,either

because

the

language is inappropriate or
because the books dont advance
the schools educational goals,
or for other curricular reasons.
It is harder for a school to
justify removing materials from
the school library than from

the classroom because schools have a broad right to set classroom


curriculum, but less of an interest in limiting students voluntary
exploration of library materials.
The censorship of many books and magazines has been challenged
legally by students, teachers and school librarians in California. The
freedom to read is something worth fighting for!

How does this affect our use of


the Internet on school computers?
The United States Supreme Court has said that libraries do not, as
a general rule, violate the First Amendment when they use blocking
software

to

limit

Internet

access. In fact, schools that


receive federal funds may be
required

by

the

Childrens

Internet Protection Act to use


blocking software to prevent
student
and

access

to

pornographic

obscene
material.

However, school libraries may


not

use

blocking

software

to favor one viewpoint over


another, such as a filter that
allows access to anti-choice
websites but blocks access to
pro-choice websites.

PLEDGE & PRAYERS


What about a moment of silence?
It depends on what the purpose of the moment of silence is, and how it is
carried out. If the only purpose or effect is to promote religion then it is
probably forbidden by the Constitution. On the other hand, if the purpose
has nothing to do with religionfor example, to remember someone who
has died or to think about world peacethen it is probably O.K.

Can the school allow Christmas


programs or other types of
religious pageants or displays?
The school may not display religious symbols on school property. Sometimes,
however, its not clear whether an exhibit clearly sends a religious message.
Certainly, a cross or Nativity scene would be impermissible. However,

Do we have to
say the Pledge of Allegiance?
No. The courts say that students have the right to sit silently
during the f lag salute and Pledge of Allegiance as a protest against
government policies (such as the death penalty or abolishing
affirmative action) or in opposition to the words of the Pledge.
Over 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that a
compulsory f lag salute (Pledge of Allegiance) violated an individuals
constitutional right to free expression. As long as you do not disrupt
the pledge, you may refuse to participate. You do not need your
parents permission to opt out of saying the pledge.

Can school officials sponsor


prayers or other religious
exercises in school?

a class might have a temporary Day of the Dead display in October as a


cultural learning experience, despite the inclusion of religious artifacts.
Because schools may teach about religionas opposed to indoctrinating
religionmost courts allow students to sing religious music. However,
a school might go too far and offend the Constitution if, for example,
it conducts lengthy rehearsals for months in the fall for a Christmas
assembly dominated by Christian songs.

Can student groups hold religious


meetings on school property?
High school students can, during non-class hours, if other student
g roups are also allowed to meet there. The law about this (the
federal Equal Access Act of 1984) requires that the meetings be
student-initiated; school staff may not sponsor religious clubs,
although they may be present to ensure order. People from outside
the school may not lead, control, or regularly attend the meetings
although they may be invited speakers.

No. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school prayers and Bible readings

allowed even if they are nondenominational or voluntary. In a class, you

Is it legal for students to hold


prayer rallies around the agpole?

may study different prayers and religious books if they are part of a course

Yes. Students may hold informal prayer rallies on school grounds before

such as history or literature, and do not promote any particular religion.

or after school.

What about prayers or religious


references at our graduation or
other school ceremonies?

May students hand out religious


materials in school?

are unconstitutional because they go against students rights to practice


their own form of religionor none at all. Prayers and Bible reading are not

The school authorities and the student body cannot allow either a
religious leader or a student to give a prayer at graduation ceremonies
or at extracurricular school activities such as sporting events. At the
same time, the Constitution allows a speaker to include a brief religious
reference in a public address, as opposed to a sermon or prayer.

Yes. Students can distribute religious materials on the same terms


that students hand out other written materials. However, schools need
to be careful not to create the impression that they are sponsoring
or endorsing religion or particular religious views. They can do so by
making clear that the school does not endorse student speech, but they
must limit religious speech if disclaimers are inadequate to prevent an
impression of official endorsement.

DRESS CODES
Can the school tell me I cant wear
certain kinds of clothes in school?

they argue that wearing such T-shirts is the same as actually drinking

The way you dress is one of the ways you express yourself -- so the way

counseling, and not by censorship.

beer, they ignore the basic principles of freedom of speech. The problems
of drinking at schools should be dealt with through education and

you dress should be protected by the same constitutional guarantees


of privacy, liberty and free speech that protect the things you say and
write. However, the courts dont like to interfere with the authority of
school officials to impose dress codes.
School officials usually justify dress codes and grooming rules by
saying that they are necessary to prevent distraction or disruption,
to prevent gang activity or to promote safety. Even though the schools
rules might be based on unfair stereotypes and have nothing to do with
reality, it is still unlikely that a court would overturn a schools dress
code, unless it feels it really doesnt make sense or discriminates against
certain students. There are limits, however. For example, a school
dress code that has a blanket prohibition on clothing with any message
whatsoever or that allows school logos but no others, may be open to
challenge as violating students rights to free expression. School dress
codes must be specific enough that students know what is permitted
and not permitted. Therefore, broad statements like no gang-related
apparel are not okay because they are too vague. Students should not
be left to figure out what the school considers gang-related.

What if the school only enforces


the dress code against certain
students?

Can the school make me wear a


school uniform?
Although schools are allowed to adopt school uniform policies, there
are certain rules that schools must follow in doing so. One of the

School rules must be enforced uniformly. For example, if your school

most important rules is that schools must allow parents to opt out of

only stopped students of color from wearing clothes it considered gang

having their children wear school uniforms. Parents may opt out of the

related, it would be engaging in race discrimination, which is against

uniform policy for any reason, or no reason at all. The law does not

the law.

permit the school to decide whether the reason is good enough. Nor

Can a schools dress code keep us


from wearing T-shirts that have
certain slogans or messages on
them?

can the school discriminate against students who do not participate in


the school uniform policy or provide rewards to students who do wear
uniforms, such as special treats for the class with the largest number
of students wearing uniforms. In addition, schools that have adopted
uniform policies must have in place a program to assure that students
whose families cannot afford to buy uniforms are able to get uniforms
if they want them.

When a schools dress code is used to ban clothes because they have
certain slogans, then it really becomes an issue of free speech and not
just personal appearance. The school should not ban any slogans unless
they are libelous, obscene or somehow very disruptive.
Some schools try to use their dress code to prohibit students from
wearing T-shirts that advertise certain beer companies. The school
officials argue that these T-shirts encourage drinking and since
underage drinking is prohibited by state law and school rules, the
students shouldnt be able to wear the shirts. The problem with this
argument is that it doesnt make the distinction between speech (having
a beer slogan on a T-shirt) and conduct (students drinking beer). When

Can a school say I cant wear my


hair in a certain way or say I cant
have a beard or a mustache?
The length or style of your hair is an even more personal decision than
what you wear, because you can change your clothes when you leave
school. However, the courts dont like to interfere with the schools
authority, and usually say that school rules against growing beards and
limiting hair length are permissible.

SCHOOL RECORDS

What is in my school records?


Every school makes a record of each students academic and personal
progress from the time he or she enters school until graduation. This
record may include progress reports, grades, achievement scores, I.Q.
tests, disciplinary reports, medical records, psychological and psychiatric
reports, and evaluations by teachers and school administrators.

Do I have a right to see my files?


Federal law guarantees the rights of parents of students and students

that matters. Your parents can authorize the release of your school
records even if you want to keep the information private. Second, there
are some people who are allowed to review your records even without
your parents permission. These include school staff with legitimate
educational interests, other schools to which you apply or transfer, and
those who provide financial or student aid. In addition district attorneys
and probation officers may obtain access to these records in connection
with criminal investigations, investigations of probation violations, and
in connection with truancy mediations.

grade to have access to their files. Under California law, if you make a

What about the military and other


groups?

request to see your school record, the school has to respond in 5 days.

The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts receiving

themselves who are 18 or older to inspect their files. California law


allows students who are 16 years old or who have completed the 10th

certain federal funding to give students names, addresses, and phone

How can I get certain information


taken out of my record?

numbers to branches of the United States military for recruitment purposes.

If you think that certain information in your file is inaccurate, misleading or

student information. This means your parent or guardian has the right to

inappropriate, your parents should make a written request asking the district

tell the school not to give out your information to the military. It also means

superintendent to either remove it or to include a statement challenging its

that you can tell the school not to give out this information unless it has

contents. If you are over 18, you can make the request yourself.

your parent or guardians signature. Additionally, schools must allow military

The law also requires, however, that schools give students and parents the
opportunity to insist on prior written parental consent before disclosing

recruiters the same access to students as they allow for representatives from

Can information in my school


records be given to other people
without my permission?
It depends. First of all, if you are under 18, its your parents permission

institutions of higher education and employers.


Other groups and agencies can get some of the information about youyour
name, birth date, birthplace, address, phone number, dates of attendance and
awards. If you are over 18, you can request that even this kind of information not
be released, and if you are younger your parent can make such a request.

DISCRIMINATION
Are schools allowed to offer
certain sports programs only to
boys or girls?
No. There is a federal law (Title IX of the Education Amendments
of 1972) that says schools that receive federal funds may not
discriminate against boys or girls in interscholastic, club or
intramural sports programs. This means that girls cannot be denied
access to most sports programs offered to boys and vice-versa.
California law also prohibits discrimination and specif ies that
public school spor ts prog rams provide girls an equal oppor tunity
to

par ticipate,

including

access to facilities and


training.
Some

schools

exceptions

for

make
contact

sports and for teams formed


on the basis of competitive
skill.

Courts

generally

uphold separate teams for


girls and boys when schools
provide opportunities in the
particular sport for both
sexes.

What about
other
kinds of
classes and
programs?

What can we do if the school or


people at the school are homophobic?
In 1999, the California Legislature passed a law that prohibits
discrimination in schools that receive public funding on the
basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes
discrimination against students who are perceived as lesbian or
gay. The ACLU has brought successfully brought cases for students
against school districts that failed to prevent gay students from
harassment by other students and from staff. Under the terms of
the settlements in these cases, the school districts had to institute
anti-homophobia and tolerance trainings for staff and students.
You can encourage your
school

to

arrange

for

preventive trainings on
issues

of

respect

and

safety for lesbian, gay,


bisexual, and transgender
students and staff.

Can I bring a
same sex date
to the school
prom?
Schools in some communities
have tried to stop students
from bringing dates of the
same sex to the prom or
other school social events.
California prohibits schools
from

discriminating

on

U.S. law (Title IX of the Civil Rights Act) and California law (Education

the basis of sexual orientation or gender, including gender identity.

Code, Sections 221.5 and 221.7) forbid sex discrimination in academic

That means schools must allow students to choose their own dates,

and other school programs. All courses and other school-related

regardless of their sex, gender or gender identity. A federal court has

activities must be open to both boys and girls.

also ruled that prohibiting a gay student from bringing his date to the
prom violated his federal constitutional right to freedom of speech.

What can we do if the school or


people at the school are racist?
Both the U.S. and the California Constitutions prohibit actions by a
school system or school officials that discriminate against students on
the basis of race or national origin. If you feel that you or another
student is being discriminated against, you should talk to a teacher or
another school official, find out if there is a complaint procedure at your
school (there should be), and make sure that the matter is investigated
and addressed.

How can we fight against


harassment on campus? Are school
officials liable for not preventing
or effectively intervening if
students report sexual, racial, or
anti-gay harassment to them?
If you have been the subject of harassment, you should report it to a school

10

official who has the authority to take action. Under federal law (Title

o r i e n t a t i o n u n d e r t h e C a l i fo r n i a S t u d e n t S a fe t y a n d V i o l e n c e

IX) schools can be held liable for teacher-student sexual harassment if

P r e ve n t i o n A c t . T h i s l aw m a n d a t e s t h a t s c h o o l p e r s o n n e l p r o t e c t

the student reports the harassment to a school official and that official

students from harassment and discrimination and provide

refuses to take action against the harasser. Under both federal and state

students with equal access to all educational opportunities.

law, schools can also be held liable for failing to take action against

B e i n g d i s c r i m i n a t e d a g a i n s t fo r yo u r g e n d e r i d e n t i t y m a y

student-to-student harassment. In these cases, however, not only do you

include

have to report the harassment, you must also show that the school

b a t h r o o m s o r l o c ke r r o o m s , s c h o o l p e r s o n n e l r e f u s i n g t o r e fe r

the

fo l l o w i n g :

not

h av i n g

access

to

appropriate

failed to remedy the situation, their response was unreasonable, and it

t o yo u by t h e p r o n o u n t h a t c o r r e s p o n d s t o yo u r g e n d e r i d e n t i t y,

deprived the student of an educational opportunity.

and not being allowed to wear clothes that other students can
w e a r b e c a u s e yo u a r e d r e s s i n g i n g e n d e r n o n - c o n fo r m a t i ve

What rights do I have as a


transgender youth?

ways.

I n m o s t C a l i fo r n i a s c h o o l s , yo u t h a r e e x p l i c i t l y p r o t e c t e d f r o m

info@transgenderlawcenter.org.

For free legal advice about these or other issues, contact


the Transgender Law Center at (415) 865-0176 or by email

discrimination on the basis of gender identity and/or sexual

O R G A N I Z E ! Fi g
h t i n g ra c i s m ,
s ex i s m , h o m o
phobia at sc
hool
is c r im in a ti o n

and harassme
nt at school ar
Yo u a n d y o u r
e n o t o n ly il le g
fe ll o w s tu d e n
a l b u t u n ju s t.
ts c a n o r g a n iz
a n d in y o u r c
e a g a in s t in ju
o m m u n it y. H E
s ti c e a t s c h o o
RE ARE SOME
l
1. R ep o rt a n y
K
E
Y
S
T E P S T O TA K
in ci d en t o f d
E
is
:
cr im in
ad

m in is tr a to r. F
a ti o n o r h a ra
in d a n a d v o ca
ss m en t to a
te
: o ft en th er e
te a ch er o r sc
gi v e y o u em o ti
w il l b e a co u n
o n a l su p p o rt
hool
se lo r o r te a ch
a s w el l a s in fo
er
rm a ti o n .
w h o ca n
2 . Wri te d o w n
ev er y th in g th
a
t
h a p p en s. S av e
y o u w ri te . H av
a ll th e n o te s,
e w it n es se s w
re p o rt s, le tt er
ri te d o w n w h a
s o r a rt ic le s
t th ey h ea rd o
3 . S p ea k o u t a
r saw.
ga in st in ju st ic
e. E d u ca te y o
b u il d su p p o rt
u r fe ll o w st u d
a m o n g th em .
en ts a b o u t w h
a t is go in g o n
4 . E d u ca te y o
and
u rs el v es . F in d
o
u
t
w
h
en o u gh to a d d
a t y o u r sc h o o
re ss th e d is cr
l p o li ci es a re
. If th ey a re
im in a ti o n o r h
it to m o re st
n o t st ro n g
a
ra
ss m en t, o rg a n
ro n g ly a d d re ss
iz
e a ca m p a ig n
is su es o f ra ci
a n ti -b ia s p ro g
to ch a n ge
sm , se x is m o
ra m s fo r st u d
r h o m o p h o b ia
en ts a n d st a ff
st u d en ts a b o u
.
A
d v o ca te fo r
, a n d ch a n ge s
t so ci et a l d is
to th e cu rr ic u
cr im in a ti o n . Y
b o a rd , ci ty co
lu
m
th
a t ed u ca te
o u r ca m p a ig n
u n ci l o r ev en
m a y ta k e y o u
th e st a te L eg is
to th e sc h o o l
la tu re .
5 . If th e p ro b
le m is p er v a si
v e, co n ta ct th
e AC L U o r a n
a tt o rn ey.

11

HEALTH & MEDICAL CARE


How can I pay for birth control,
abortion or childbirth?
Some health insurance policies cover these costs. However, if you are
on your familys policy, and you use it to pay for medical services or
supplies, your parents may find out that you are using birth control or
seeking other kinds of reproductive health care. If you are concerned
about this, call the company to find out how they handle such matters.
Medi-Cal also will pay for prescription birth control (such as the
pill, injections, diaphragm and IUD), abortions and prenatal care and
delivery for teens when their own incomes (not including their parents
incomes) qualify. Another program that pays for family planning
services only is Family PACT. You do not need your parents permission,
and neither Medi-Cal nor Family PACT will contact your parents. Many
clinics and doctors will assist you in obtaining coverage. Call 1-800-

Are students entitled to learn


about HIV/AIDS, birth control,
pregnancy and abortion at school?

942-1054 to find out more about Family PACT, or contact the Medi-Cal

All California schools must provide information about HIV/AIDS

Yes. California law, the Reproductive Privacy Act, guarantees everyone

transmission. Schools are not otherwise required to offer classes in sex

the right to choose or refuse abortion. Generally, abortion is safer early

education. Students may choose not to attend sex education classes,

in pregnancy. Although it is not advisable to wait, you may still obtain

and parents may send in written notice prohibiting their children from

an abortion late in pregnancy if your doctor decides that it is necessary

attending sex education classes.

to preserve your life or health.

office in your area for information about Medi-Cal.

Is abortion legal?

If schools conduct sex education classes that discuss sexual


intercourse, they must provide accurate, up-to-date information about
all forms of birth control. In addition, sex education curricula and
teaching must be medically accurate and free of gender bias and race
bias. California law requires that sex education classes be accurate and
objective because many schools were using courses that discourage
teenagers from having sex by frightening them with false information
about sex.

Where can I go to nd out whether I


am pregnant and to get an abortion
or care during my pregnancy?
There are family planning clinics that provide birth control information,
counseling and pregnancy testing. Some clinics also perform abortions
and provide prenatal care. You may call Family PACT (1-800-942-1054)
for referral information or check your local yellow pages for clinic

information.
Do I need my parents consent to
get birth control? Will my parents
Do I need my parents permission to
be told?
get an abortion? Will my parents
You do not need your parents consent for birth control information,
condoms, or prescription birth control drugs such as pills and injections.
be told if I have an abortion?
In general, birth control counseling and distribution are both completely
confidential. But there are a few situations where child abuse laws
require clinic staff to report very young teenagers or teenagers
engaging in sex with significantly older partners. If the staff asks you
about your age and the age of your partner, or other details of your
activity, its a good idea to ask them what their policy is about keeping
this information confidential.

12

No.

Do I need my boyfriends consent


to get an abortion?
No.

Can I put my baby up for adoption


without my parents permission?
Yes. In California, just as you can obtain birth control and an abortion
without your parents consent, you can choose to put your baby up for

staff will not involve your parents. But it is possible, especially for
sexual assault, mental health, and alcoholism treatmentso it is best to
find out the clinics policy.
The Department of Public Health gives treatments for some of these
diseases and conditions for free.

adoption without their permission. If you are considering adoption, you

Also, according to state law (Education Code 46010.1), school

can get counseling and information from agencies that are listed in the

authorities may excuse students in g rades 7 through 12 from

yellow pages under Adoption.

school for confidential medical services without the consent of the


students parent or guardian. It is a good idea to find out about

Can my parents or my boyfriend


force me to terminate my
pregnancy?
No. Just as the law protects your right to have an abortion without your
parents knowledge or consent, it also protects your right not to have an
abortion, even if others pressure you.

your schools policy of notifying parents of students absences for


health care.

Can I be tested or treated for HIV


without my parents knowledge or
permission?
Yes, as long as you are 12 or older; if you are 12 or older, your HIV-status

Can school officials make me leave


school if I become pregnant, or
forbid me from participating in
certain activities?

may not be reported to your parents without your permission. Under

No. Under federal law, a school may not discriminate against a student

same rights as other minors with regard to HIV testing and treatment; if

on the basis of her pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy,

they are under 12 years old, the juvenile courts permission is required

or recovery from procedures related to pregnancy or abortion. Many

for HIV testing and treatment.

California law, young people under 12 must obtain parental permission


to be tested or treated for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition,
a parent may authorize a test or treatment for HIV for a child under 12,
even if the child doesnt want to be tested or treated. Minors over 12
years old who are in the foster care or youth probation systems have the

California schools have special programs for pregnant and parenting


students.

Can I receive medical treatment


without my parents permission?
It depends. Although parental consent is required for most medical
treatment for minors under the age of
18, some of the things you want to
keep private can be treated without
your parents knowledge. If you are
12 or older, you can be treated for
sexually transmitted diseases (such
as syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, etc.),
sexual assault, alcoholism, drug abuse,
or obtain mental health counseling,
without your parents permission.
No matter how old you are, you may
obtain pregnancy counseling, prenatal
care,

contraception,

or

abortion

without their permission.


To be on the safe side, you should

Can school officials or employers


force me to take an HIV test?
No. They may only test you if you give them permission to do so.

Can I go to school if I have HIV or AIDS?


Absolutely.

Schools

cannot

discriminate against other students


who have HIV or students who are
related to someone with HIV. In
addition, students with HIV should
not be excluded from extracurricular
programs. Students are not required
to report their HIV status to schools,
but in situations where there is
a potential for transmission (e.g.,
bleeding injuries), it may be advisable
to

inform

the

school.

Schools

must ensure the confidentiality of


students medical conditions.

ask the clinic whether your parents


will be told. For most services, clinic

13

BILINGUAL EDUCATION
Do non or limited English speaking
students have a right to be
educated in their own language?
Up to a point. Under both state and federal law, schools have an affirmative
duty to provide appropriate programs to address the language needs of
students whose primary language is not English or who are limited English
proficient (LEP). Schools must ensure that these students learn academic
English and have equal access to the curriculum. In California, how this
dual obligation is carried out is governed to a large degree by Proposition
227 which places some restrictions on bilingual education programs.

How has Proposition 227 limited


bilingual education programs?

year goal is often not realistic. LEP students are entitled to special
services to address their language needs until it is determined that they
can participate equally in a mainstream classroom with native English
speakers.
A court has concluded that Prop. 227 vests decision-making over
the method of LEP instruction exclusively with individual parents of
LEP students. . . Parents are able to exercise this right by obtaining
individual waivers to permit their child to be taught in a bilingual
education classroom provided certain criteria are met. Schools are
required to provide parents written notice of their right to apply for a
waiver and teachers are free to recommend to parents that they apply
for a waiver. Schools which do not provide the required notice, respond
to requests for waivers in a timely manner, or adequately justify a
denial of a waiver request may be subject to legal action.
Federal law requires that schools which focus first on teaching LEP
students English must also take

Under Proposition 227 (passed

steps to ensure that any deficit

by California voters in 1998),

in

LEP students who do not know


English well enough to perform
ordinary

classroom

work

the

students

academic

knowledge be addressed so that


ultimately these students do

in

not fall behind in knowledge

English are supposed to be taught

of academic subjects. Again

in a sheltered English immersion

schools which fail to meet this

program where nearly all the

requirement may be subject

instruction is in English. Students

to legal action. The federal No

are supposed to be transferred

Child Left Behind Act does not

into mainstream English language

mandate a particular approach

classrooms as quickly as possible,

to teaching LEP students, and

with the goal being one year.

does not prohibit the use of

However, the actual practice varies

bilingual programs.

from district to district, as the one

special EDUCATION
Do schools have to provide special
help to students with learning or
physical disabilities?
Yes. Under both state and federal law, schools must provide
students with disabilities with special educational prog rams and

14

services so that they can obtain an education appropriate to their


needs and, to the extent practicable, par ticipate in mainstream
classes alongside their peers without disabilities. The law also
requires that schools have ramps or other str uctures allowing
students with physical disabilities easy access to all par ts of the
campus.

ACCESS TO BASIC EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES


l

Textbooks or instructional materials that are current, have all their


pages, and are readable and not falling apart;

Credentialed, permanent teachers with competency in the subject


area of the class (for English learners, this means teachers with
specialized training); and

Classrooms and other facilities that do not pose a danger to students


safety and health.

What are the minimum standards


for public school education in
California?
In May 2000, the ACLU, along with other organizations, brought a
lawsuit on behalf of students attending public schools in California
that lacked even the most basic resources for learning. The lawsuit,
called Williams v. California, challenged the states failure to provide
all California students with basic educational necessities.

In order

to settle the case, the state agreed to implement new standards and
accountability for textbooks, teachers and facilities. Under the Williams
settlement, students have a right to:
l

State- or District-approved textbooks or other instructional materials


to use in class and at home;

What can I do if my school has


unsafe facilities, untrained
teachers or insufcient materials?
Under the Williams settlement, schools are required to have a complaint
process through which students, parents, teachers, and any other
interested person or organization can complain about inadequate
instructional materials, misassigned teachers, or unsafe facilities
conditions such as broken windows, gas leaks, heating failures, pest
infestation, or structural damage. Notice of the complaint process must
be posted in every classroom.
For more information about the Williams case and settlement, visit
www.decentschools.org, call the toll-free Williams information hotline
1-877-532-2533, or contact Brooks Allen at (408) 569-5895 or
ballen@aclu-sc.org.

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE
At what age can I leave school
legally?

like violating a serious school rule or being arrested. If a student is

In California, education is compulsory until you graduate or reach the

Many districts have their own community day school programs. If not,

age of 18; you must attend a school or an appropriate continuation

students can go to the county community program. In reality, many

program. There are some exceptions, including for students who attend

parents and students do not feel good about these programs and many

private school or receive other instruction, some students who work

opt for independent study. However, the District must offer an option

or attend occupational training programs, and students who have

that is not independent study.

completed certain levels of education.

You can be suspended or expelled from school for a number of reasons


expelled, the District must offer some type of educational program.

You can also be barred from school temporarily if you have a contagious
disease.

Can school officials ever prevent


me from attending?
Anyone living in California who is between the ages of 6 and 18 has the right
to a free public education. You may not be barred from attending school
simply because of physical disability, pregnancy, marriage, homelessness
or immigration status. Schools also must admit children of migrant
farmworkers, even if they attend school for only part of the year.

If I am 18 years old, can I excuse myself


for my absences or do I still have to
get a parent or guardians permission?
The California Education Code (section 46012) gives a student who is
18 years old the same ability to excuse his or her absences that a parent
or guardian has.

15

SEARCHES
Can the principal or a teacher
search me?
Yes, but only under cer tain specif ic circumstances, because you
dont give up your right to privacy when you go to school. Under
the law, if a school off icial wants to search you, there are two
requirements. First, before he or she searches you, there must
be a reasonable suspicion, based on facts, that the search will
produce evidence that you are violating the law or a school r ule.
For example, the principal would have to have specif ic information
that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a student is
carr ying a weapon, dr ugs or cigarettes. Second, the way he or she
searches you should be reasonable based on your age and what
is being searched for.
These restrictions apply to physical searches of a students person
(i.e., pat down of clothes, emptying pockets) and any personal
belongings, including backpacks, lunch bags, or cars (if they are on
school grounds).
Strip searches of students by school officials are absolutely
prohibited.

no other way of identifying the student, a court would be more likely to


find that the teacher had reasonable suspicion to search the purse for
some sort of identifying document.

Can the school search the entire


student body or an entire class just
because they suspect one student?
No. Since the law says that there must be a reasonable suspicion that
the individual student or students to be searched are violating school
rules, information that some students are using drugs should not justify
a search of everyone in the class, or at a school football game, or at the
prom.
Not all courts agree, however, that there must always be individualized
suspicion before a larger group is searched.

Are our lockers private?


Even though school officials are not supposed to search your locker
unless they have reasonable suspicion that they would find something
that is against the law or school rules, some school districts try to get

Can school officials pull me out


of class to question me without
reasonable suspicion?
The California Supreme Court has ruled that students may be questioned
without schools having reasonable suspicion as long as the school
isnt acting arbitrarily or questioning for purposes of harassment.

What do you mean by reasonable


suspicion?

around this by having a rule that says that the locker belongs to the
school and so school officials can have access to it. Even though that
doesnt completely take away your privacy from a locked locker, it is
wiser not to keep anything in a locker that you dont want the school
or the police to see.

Can the school make me take


blood or urine tests for drugs or
breathalyzer tests for alcohol?
Although all three of these tests are considered searches, there are

Unfortunately, there is no clear way of defining reasonable suspicion.

no clear answers about when or whether schools can require students

But at least we can say that it must be a suspicion based on facts and

to submit to them. In 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled

not on a hunch, rumor or curiosity. For example, a principal stopped a

that student athletes may be required to submit to random urine drug

student who was out of class without permission, and asked to look at

tests. Then, in the Earls case, in 2002 the Court held that schools are

a bag with an odd-looking bulge that the student was holding behind his

allowed to require urine tests for all students voluntarily involved

back. The student refused unless the principal showed him a warrant.

in non-athletic extracurricular activities, such as a choir, debate or

The California Supreme Court ruled that these facts did not add up to a

chess club.

reasonable suspicion that a search of the bag would produce evidence

You can still fight invasive practices such as random drug testing

of anything unlawful (even though the student did have marijuana in

or breathalyzer tests. Organizations like the American Academy

the bag).

of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, and the

In another example, after a student had violated a school disciplinary

National Education Association think its important for youth to have

rule, a teacher searched a students purse in order to find out the

confidentiality and autonomy and that drug tests are inaccurate in

students name without first asking the student, who was known to

detecting some drugs. Many youth advocates such as teachers, social

be nearby, what her name was. A court ruled that the teacher did not

workers and doctors point to research showing that random drug

have reasonable suspicion to justify the search. On the other hand,

testing is harmful to youth because involvement in extracurricular

if the student had engaged in serious misconduct, and the teacher had

activities often reduces substance abuse. Also, some schools are

16

Remember: if the principal asks if you agree to a search and you say
yes, you can turn an illegal search into a legal search. That means that
anything he or she finds can be used against you in a disciplinary or
criminal proceeding.

Can evidence that they find in an


illegal search be used against me
in court or by the school?
Evidence seized in an illegal search cannot be used against you in a
criminal or juvenile proceeding, regardless of whether the search was
conducted by a school official or the police. But, in California, the courts
have ruled that evidence from even an illegal search can be used by
the school in disciplinary proceedings. (By the way, this is not true
for students in public colleges or universitiesillegally seized evidence
cannot be used against them by the school.)

Do police have the same right


to search students as school
officials?
No. Even if police are called into your school, the limits on their right
to search students are generally the same as their right to search
adults on the public streets. In most situations, police need more
justification than a school officialunder the Fourth Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution, they need a warrant and probable cause. If
there is an emergency, though, police can search without a warrant
in order to prevent harm or the destruction of evidence. Also, police
can stop and frisk someone if they have a reasonable suspicion that
refusing to drug-test students and are repealing their drug-testing

they are breaking the law and that the suspect is armed, and they can

policies.

search someone after they lawfully place them under arrest. Some

You can make a difference. Raise student awareness about why such

courts have said, however, that when police are simply assisting

practices violate your privacy. Have students sign a petition protesting

school administrators, a lesser standard may apply. This issue has not

the use of such searches, deliver the petitions to your administration,

been definitively resolved.

ask for a written response and publish it in the school newspaper. Do

so much money and violating the privacy of the whole student body

Can our schools bring in drugsniffing dogs for searches?

to catch a few offenders. Alert parents, taxpayers, and the media

The Supreme Court has ruled that a sniff of unattended personal

about this questionable use of education funds. Propose alternatives

belongings is not a search. Some lower courts have held that when

to the problem that would address the underlying issues of drug use,

a dog is used to sniff the student herself, it is a search that must

alcoholism, and students safety. Lobby members of the school board,

be reasonable under all of the circumstances. The ACLU believes this

and prepare sympathetic parents and students to testify against such

means that the search must be based on individualized suspicion. The

searches.

ACLU has also challenged school policies that require students to leave

the research to find out how much drug testing costs and show how
that money could be put to better use. Ask why the school is spending

What if they ask me to agree to be


searched?

belongings in a classroom so that dogs can be brought in to sniff them.


Importantly, the California Attorney General has issued an opinion
saying that such policies are unconstitutional. No court has yet ruled
on this.

You can say no. You always have the right to refuse to be searched, and
you should make it clear that you are refusing. However, you should not
physically resist a search even if you think it is illegal.

17

PUNISHMENT
Is it legal for a teacher or
school official to hit a student?

and the school must call your


parent or guardian for a
conference.
Expulsion

No! Under California law (Education Code Section 49001), it is against

lasts

for

the law for any school employee to inflict corporal punishment on

longer than 5 days, and

a student.

may only be ordered by


your school board upon

What are the grounds for


suspension and expulsion in
California?

recommendation of your
principal. Expulsion may
not last beyond the end
of the semester following
the semester in which you

A school may suspend or expel students for the following reasons:

committed the acts resulting

being habitually disobedient; damaging or stealing school or private

in

property; knowingly receiving stolen property; threatening or

appeal.

bringing drugs or alcohol to school; doing something legally

If

obscene; being involved in habitual profanity and vulgarity;

for engaging in acts of sexual harassment, for hate violence, or for


creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment.
But, under California law, school officials are supposed to try to
correct bad behaviorrather than suspend or expel you -- unless a
students presence causes danger to people or property or threatens to

your

recommends

disrupting school activities; intentionally defying the legitimate

to result in physical or psychological harm). You may also be expelled

the

with a procedure for a yearly

dangerous objects; possessing imitation firearms; selling or

(which means initiating students into a group in a manner likely

unless

school district provides you

causing physical injury to others; possessing weapons or other

authority of school officials; smoking in school; or hazing

expulsion,

school
that

principal
you

be

expelled, you and your parent


or guardian are entitled to
a hearing to challenge the
expulsion. The hearing will be arranged by your local school board. A
transcript must be made of the hearing, and the final expulsion order
must be made by the local school board at a public meeting. You may
appeal the order to the county board of education.

sexual assaulteither actual or attemptedand selling controlled

Are police allowed on our school


campus? Do they have special
restrictions?

substances.

The law states that schools must notify parents, except in cases of

disrupt school activities.


School boards must expel for possessing, selling or furnishing a
firearm, possessing explosives, brandishing a knife at another person,

Check out School Discipline: A Guide for Students & Parents, an

child abuse by the parent, if a student is taken off campus. However,

ACLU handbook on suspension and expulsion in California public schools.

there currently is no state law requirement that schools or police notify

This publication is available on the ACLU-NCs website www.aclunc.org.

parents when students are questioned on campus by police. Students


should know that they can exercise their right to remain silent when

Are there procedures the school


must follow to suspend or expel me?

questioned by police and should ask to have a parent or other trusted


adult present before talking to police. However, schools and police
officers dont have to honor the request.

You may be suspended for no longer than 5 consecutive school days,

except in cases of emergency. Even under emergency conditions,

Can the school punish me for offcampus behavior?

however, the principal must meet with you within two school days of

According to the Education Code, a student may be suspended or expelled

the suspension order. Also, the principal must notify your parent or

only for conduct that is related to school activity or school attendance.

guardian that you have been suspended.

That includes, however, conduct that occurs on school grounds, while

and no more than 20 school days in one school year. Before you can be
suspended, your principal must meet with you to discuss the situation

A teacher also has the right to suspend you from class for the day

going to or coming from school, during the lunch period (even if the

of the suspension and the following day for any of the reasons listed

student is having lunch off-campus), and during, or while going to or

above. The principal must be notified immediately of the suspension,

coming from, a school-sponsored activity.

18

TROUBLE WITH THE LAW


Do I have to answer if a
school official or police
officer asks me about
criminal activity?
Even at school, you always have a constitutional right to
remain silent when questioned by either school officials
or the police. Of course, there are times when nothing bad
would come of answering a few questions, and you have to
use your own judgment. As a general rule, it is probably better
to not speak with officials about possible unlawful activity until you
have spoken to your parents and/or a lawyer, and you should make
it clear that you do not want to talk until you have done so. However,
by refusing to answer questions by school officials you could provide
school officials with grounds to discipline you.
When police confront suspected law breakers, they generally must
inform them of their right to remain silent, their right to a lawyer,
and the fact that what they say can be used against thembefore they
question them. But when a school official questions you, he or she does
not have to first read you your rights and anything you say to that
official can be used against you.

purpose is constitutionally protected.


With the passage of Proposition 21, law enforcement only needs
to show that a youth is an active par ticipant, not a member, in
a criminal street gang in order to impose g reater penalties for
gang crimes (which includes promoting, fur thering, assisting in,
or benef iting from gang crimes). Even youths with no criminal
back g round may be arrested under this law.

Are criminal proceedings against


youth different from those
against adults?

The law requires that parents be notified when police arrest a student

Yes, in some ways. In most cases in California, anyone under the age of

at school. It does not require that school officials notify your parents or

18 comes under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court rather than the

permit them to be present when you are being questioned by the police.

regular criminal court system. But there are exceptions: if a minor is 16

Generally speaking, however, you should nevertheless ask to have a

or older (or in some cases, 14 and older) and accused of certain crimes,

parent, some other trusted adult, or a lawyer present before agreeing

he may face adult criminal proceedings. Adult proceedings generally

to talk to the police.

subject defendants to longer sentences, and in many situations,


juveniles tried as adults may be held in adult facilities. Youth who go

What if I am stopped by a police


officer away from school?

through juvenile proceedings cannot be committed to the California

You should ask politely if you are free to leave. If told you are free to leave,

they can be brought into the juvenile court system if they are deemed

go. If not, if requested, produce identification and identify yourself.

to be beyond parental control, or habitual delinquents, truants or

If the officer asks about any crime that you are a suspect in, always
ask for an attorney immediately. Never try to talk your way out of it.
If the officer Mirandizes you (tells you that you have a right
to remain silent, you have a right to have an attorney present...),

Youth Authority past the age of 25.


Minors can be arrested for the same reasons as adults. In addition,

runaways. Depending on the acts they commit, whether they have a prior
record, and what their home life is like, juveniles may be sentenced to
juvenile prison terms, periods of probation, or be required to participate
in appropriate counseling, educational or rehabilitative programs.

always ask for an attorney and do not talk to the officer further

etc., you can always say no (politely). If the officer asks why you

What are my rights if I am


arrested as a juvenile?

will not ag ree to a search, tell the officer that you were advised not

Because juvenile proceedings are not criminal in nature, youth do not

to. You never know what someone may have inadvertently dropped

have certain due process rights, or the right to a jury trial.

about anything other than your identification (if asked).


If the officer asks if he or she can search your pockets, car, house,

in your car, your room or your possessions.

If you are arrested, the police ofcer must warn you that anything you
say may be used against you, that you have the right to remain silent, and

Is it illegal to belong to a gang?


It is illegal to hang out with others for the purpose of committing a
crime. However, mere association with others without a criminal

the right to a lawyer during any questioning or court proceeding (the ofcer
Mirandizes you). If you cannot afford a lawyer the court will appoint one for
you. In addition, you have the right to know the specic charges against you.
TO BE CONTINUED

19

If I am arrested, can I be locked up


prior to a hearing?

offenses, assault or battery, theft, vandalism, or graffiti. In some cases,


school officials legally can prevent you from returning to school.

properly care for you, are unable to supervise you properly, or

Can I have a juvenile record


sealed or destroyed?

pose a danger to you. You can be locked up (detained) if the

Yes, under certain circumstances. You may petition to have your records

judge thinks it is necessar y for your protection or the protection

sealed or destroyed when you reach the age of 18, or 5 years after the

of another person or proper ty; that you are likely to leave the area

jurisdiction of the juvenile court has ended or you were first ordered

of the cour t; that you have violated a previous cour t order; or that

to appear before a probation officerwhichever happens first. When the

you are physically a danger to the public. As a general matter,

court decides whether to grant your request, it considers the nature of

you must be released from detention within 48 hours (excluding

your crime and whether it believes that you have been rehabilitated.

weekends and holidays) unless charges are f iled against you.

In addition, some sealed records may be destroyed permanently, either

You must be released to the custody of your parent, guardian, or


a responsible relative unless it is determined that they cannot

five years after they are sealed, or when you turn 38. Under some

Will my school be notified?


Usually, yes. School officials will be notified if you are convicted of a crime
involving a curfew, gambling, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, weapons, certain sex

circumstances, however, records may never be destroyed.


Proposition 21, passed in 2000, significantly limits the ability of
many juveniles to seal their records.

MILITARY
Do I need to register for the military?
No, if you are female; probably yes, if you are male. All male citizens
and most male non-citizen residents of the United States born in 1960
or later are required to register with the Selective Service System
within 30 days (before or after) of turning 18. If youve missed the
deadline, youre technically in violation of law; you should therefore
contact a trained military counselor (who, in most cases, will simply
advise you to go ahead and register). Registration requires filling out
a form and establishing your identity. Currently, there is a procedure
for doing this online. Right now, military service is not mandatory

program, which means you can sign up while you are still in school but
do not go to boot camp until you graduate. If you change your mind about
the military before you enter boot camp, you can usually get out of your
enlistment contract. If you change your mind after boot camp, you can still
get out but it is much more difficult. In either case, you need to contact a
trained military counselor (like the Central Committee for Conscientious
Objectors or a lawyer) to discuss your situation. Although a recruiter may
threaten to punish you if you try to get out of the military, a recruiter is
not a police officer and has no power to arrest or punish you.

so registration does not mean that you will be drafted. However,

How do military recruiters nd me?

according to the Selective Service System, the purpose of registration

Go to the section on School Records to read about one way military

is to have the names and addresses of those who might be called in

recruiters get your contact information.

the event of a draft.

What happens if I refuse to register?


Non-registration is a felony (punishable with jail, a fine or both) and
can have major repercussions on your future employment, education
and eligibility for government benefits. If you are considering nonregistration, you should find out as much as you can about the
consequences before you make your decision. If you are not a U.S.
citizen, you may lose your right to naturalization and be deported from
the United States.

I signed up in high school to join


the military, but now Ive changed
my mind. Can I get out?
Most high school students join the military through the delayed entry

20

Does the military have a right to


recruit students at my school?
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools that receive federal
funding must allow military recruiters on campus at the same rate
that they allow other employers and institutions of higher learning on
campus. But, your school does not have to allow military recruiters
more access than other employers, universities, and colleges have. If
you object to the presence of military recruiters at school, you can work
with other students, parents, and members of your community to lobby
your school administration to limit military recruiters on campus.
You can also pass out fliers at school with your own views about
military recruiting, and you can inform students of their right not
to have their contact information disclosed to the military. Go to the
section on School Records for more information about opting out of
disclosing your contact information to the military.

EMANCIPATION OF MINORS
What does emancipation of minors
mean?
Emancipation of minors means that even if you are under 18 your
parents no longer have any legal authority over you nor responsibility
for your acts.
A minor (person under 18) may become emancipated if you enter into
a valid marriage or you are on active duty in the armed forces. It can
also happen if your parents abandon you or give up their parental rights.
In addition, you may file for emancipation under the Emancipation of
Minors Law. The result of this kind of emancipation is that you will
assume most of the powers, rights and responsibilities that an adult
has, and your parents will no longer be responsible for supporting you
financially.

What is the procedure under the


Emancipation of Minors Law? What are
the requirements for emancipation?
A young person who is at least 14 years old may petition the Superior
Court of the county in which he or she lives. The petitioner must state
that she is willingly living apart from her parents with their permission
and is supporting herself financially in a legal manner. The court will
notify your parents or guardian and the district attorney or your
probation officer, if you are on probation. The court will then decide
whether granting you emancipation is in your best interests. If the
court declares you emancipated, your DMV identification will show that
you are emancipated, so people can treat you as an adult when you do
things like apply for a job or enroll in college.
The court may later set aside your emancipation, if it finds that it didnt
know important facts when it granted it, or if you later cannot support
yourself financially and become dependent upon public assistance.

21

What is the American Civil


Liberties Union?

he American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a national non-profit organization founded


in 1920 to protect individual rights and personal freedoms as outlined in the Bill of
Rights and the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU of Northern California defends peoples
rights in the courts, the legislature and Congress, and the streets. The ACLU is actively
involved in fighting against race discrimination, police brutality, language discrimination,
curfews, homophobia, censorship, and the death penalty.
The ACLU-NC sponsors the Howard A. Friedman First Amendment Education Project
which organizes youth conferences and rallies, sponsors investigative summer trips on
controversial issues, and sends youth speakers into the schools to educate their peers
about their rights. For more information about the Friedman Project, check out our website
at www.aclunc.org/youth.
The ACLU is a membership organization. We welcome and encourage students to join at a
special discount rate of only $5 a year. When you become a member of the ACLU-NC, you will
receive our newspaper, the ACLU News, to learn more about current issues and how you can
be active in the fight for civil liberties. Whats more, you will be supporting an organization
that fights for the constitutional rights of all people.
To join, go to http://www.aclunc.org/join.html, or fill out the form below.
$5 Student Membership $20 Regular Membership

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